Like Pinter's Betrayal, The Real Thing is regarded as Tom Stoppard's most autobiographical play. Unfortunately it displays Stoppard's love of oh-so-clever dialogue and wittisisms but at the expense of real heart and emotion. People may talk like this in Islington or Notting Hill but in real life most people resort to cliches at times of emotional stress, not an impersonation of Noel Coward. Also, if this really is based on Stoppard's life, Felicity Kendall and Miriam Stoppard must have been unbearable because both female characters are largely unsympathetic, not helped by both actresses choosing to shout rather than project. Toby Stephens (who also appeared in Betrayal recently) has toned down his usual level of smugness and makes the most of an admittedly clever script but sadly The Real Thing lacks the essential element of feeling real. Arcadia was one of my highlights of 2009 but this production (not helped by two long delays due to lighting problems) was a sad disappointment. - David Baxter
13 May 10
Tiresome, smug, insular and dull. Both my companion and I hated it. Granted, there are a few good lines but god, everyone is irritating. A big disappointment. - addicted to theatre
30 Apr 10
Based on his plays that preceded this one, which I first saw 28 years ago, I always thought Tom Stoppard was too glib for his own good - he always seemed to be showing off, clever clever and knowing in a way that frankly irritated me. This was the first of his plays where he seemed to be portraying real people, relationships and indeed love! I don't know whether it is, but it did seem to be autobiographical, then and now. Playwright Henry leaves his wife for the wife of her colleague / their friend and later finds this new relationship strained by his new wife's relationship with a younger colleague. It's cleverly structured with terrific sharp and witty dialogue and the character development is excellent. You really feel you know Henry very well two hours later. Anna Mackmin's staging is slick and fast paced, aided by Les Brotherston's set which moves between four flats with the rise / fall of panels. It's very well cast, with Toby Stephens a particularly good Henry (I preferred him to Roger Rees in the original production and Stephen Dillane in the Donmar's revival some time back). This is the Stoppard play to see even if you don't like Stoppard, because it's the least Stoppardian(!) and you'd be hard pressed to find a better revival. - Gareth James
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